Creative problem solving with the Cleveland Browns!


Image courtesy of

I am a Cleveland Browns fan. Yes, willingly.

You don’t have to follow the NFL to know the Browns are one of the sorriest franchises in sports. In the eight years since the team’s last winning season in 2007, the Browns are 37-91, a .289 winning percentage. For comparison’s sake, the Patriots have won 36 regular season games over the last three years.

With such a dismal track record, it surprised no one when owner Jimmy Haslam fired his coaching staff and general manager mere hours after the Browns lost their season finale to the Steelers a couple weeks ago. It was surprising, however, when Haslam announced that Sashi Brown – a 39-year-old former lawyer who had served as the team’s general counsel and salary cap expert for the past three seasons – would have “ultimate say over the roster” as the executive VP of football operations. Days later, Haslam hired as his chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta, whose emphasis on statistical analysis helped revolutionize Major League Baseball during his time in the front offices of several different franchises.

With no notable personnel experience on his résumé, Brown’s promotion appeared to be another example of “the Browns being the Browns.” The DePodesta hiring, meanwhile, sent the sports world into a tizzy. Critics claimed statistics aren’t nearly as relevant for football as they are for other sports, particularly baseball, and traditionalists universally panned the decision, with some in the media claiming “football people” are rooting for the Browns’ experiment to fail.

I admit to being skeptical at first, but then I read this article about the DePodesta hiring. In particular, this question fascinated me: “If we weren’t already doing it this way, do you think this is the way we would do it?” With few teams in sports having more incentive to challenge conventional wisdom than the Browns, I found myself wondering if these hirings would ultimately prove to be genius moves from an owner who had not only embraced an outside-the-box mentality, but had seemingly removed the box from the room entirely.

The question for us is: Can we actually learn something from the Cleveland Browns? Absolutely. It’s all too easy to settle into a routine or make daily decisions that are dictated by tradition and the status quo, and then months or years later, we wonder why we feel stagnate, why our work isn’t as successful or challenging, or why we’re just plain bored. Don’t be afraid to step outside of the safety and comfort of your box and ask some tough questions that may completely change the way you do business.

Of course, I’m not naïve enough to suggest this approach is guaranteed to lead the Browns out of nearly two decades of futility, but I applaud Haslam’s willingness to try something completely new.

How can we adopt a similar unconventional mindset?

Take time to brainstorm
I’ve found one of my biggest hurdles is simply carving out the time to sit down and come up with new ideas rather than immediately reacting to a given situation. You can’t think of a new way to do things if you don’t spend any time actually thinking.

Challenge yourself to approach your decisions and your problems from different angles
Oftentimes, other people can best help us break from our traditional mindset and find new solutions to old problems.

Tap into your creativity
We’re all creative by nature, and that creativity can be powerful when applied to problem solving. When brainstorming a fresh solution, don’t just settle for the first or second idea you have. Challenge yourself to go deeper, to ask tougher questions, and to find the answer that’s hidden underneath years of preconceived notions, reactionary thinking and other people’s expectations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *